Can Chiropractors really help my neck and back pain? Are they safe?

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BuckMD Readers – We received a couple comments on this earlier post. Take a look, and add your own comments!

 I don’t know a lot about chiropractors.  I’ve never worked with any, didn’t learn much about them in my medical training, and don’t refer a lot of patients to them since a lot of insurances don’t cover chiropractic treatment.   

But a lot of people swear by them.  And I have a few medical colleagues who recommend them for certain patients.  And our very own medical center has a Center for Integrative Medicine that provides chiropractic treatment (you can see their take on what a chiropractor does here).

There’s obviously something to it, so I have scoured the medical literature to provide you with the most objective information I can find.  Here goes…

Do people suffering from chronic neck or back pain benefit from chiropractic treatment?

Spinal manipulation has been shown to be mildly beneficial in the treatment of uncomplicated low back pain.  Uncomplicated means that there is nothing more serious going on, like severe arthritis, pinched nerves or slipped discs.     

There’s just not enough good information about whether or not spinal manipulation is beneficial in the treatment of neck pain.  Some studies showed it might be; others showed it was only helpful if used in conjunction with exercise, and others showed no benefit. 

There is no evidence that spinal manipulation is beneficial in the treatment of headaches.

Is the cure temporary or permanent?

That’s hard to say.  Most problems that cause back or neck pain are chronic and recurrent so the treatments don’t “cure” the condition but rather relieve the symptoms of an acute flare-up.  If the symptoms come back, it’s not necessarily that the treatment didn’t do what it was supposed to.

Are there any adverse effects of chiropractic treatment?

Minor complaints are fairly common after spinal manipulation, occurring in a third to a little over half of patients.  They include headache, fatigue, and pain at the site of manipulation.  Some people report dizziness and nausea, but these are less common.

Serious adverse effects from spinal manipulation (slipped disc, stroke or torn blood vessels in the spinal column) are pretty rare.  Since the cervical spine (i.e. neck) is so much more mobile than the lumbar spine, it may be at higher risk for these problems.  Because of this – and because spinal manipulation doesn’t have any proven benefit in treating neck pain – you should probably avoid seeing chiropractors for neck pain. 

If you’re having back or neck pain, come in and see us at Student Health.  We have a full-service Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Department right here in the building and we will be happy to discuss all of your treatment options with you after we figure out what the problem is.

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)

6 thoughts on “Can Chiropractors really help my neck and back pain? Are they safe?

  1. Since its inception in 1895, chiropractic has provided treatment for patients with back pain, neck pain and headache. Chiropractic treatment has traditionally been based on spinal manipulation.

  2. I have been considering chiropractic treatment for my chronic back ache but did not know anyone who had any experience with it so I was very hesitant as I was wondering about the adverse effects if any. Your article was very insightful in that respect. At least I know what to expect and what not to expect now and feel more confident about this treatment. It’s good to know that there are no serious adverse effects. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to put this article together. I’m sure there are many others like me who have found it very helpful. Chiropractic Care for Back Pain

  3. I really appreciate the objective stance you take in explaining what chiropractic treatment can do. I have read and heard so many different things about this type of treatment and I’m having a hard time deciding on whether I should make an appointment or not. My back pain is pretty severe, so I am willing to try just about anything.

  4. The cervical pillow at any stage can cure the back or neck pain. it has the ability to do so…it is really very effective and very reliable too.

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